Written by Ilona Oltuksi (Originally posted on Get Classical.org)
Brooklyn has become a meeting of the minds between music and entrepreneurship. One of the big new players is Paola Prestini (Pictured right; photo courtesy of Erika Harrsch), who was recently highlighted in The New Yorker. The young “composer-impresario,” whose current project is orchestrating Oceanic Verses for its uropean premiere at the Barbican with the BBC Symphony Orchestra this May, was recently named artistic director of Brooklyn’s forthcoming venue, Original Music Workshop. The organization’s name is less original than its space, which consists of the old shell of a late 19th century brick sawdust factory, with what will be a completely redesigned 2200 square -foot interior; the unique Williamsburg space, still only in its conceptual state, is already being hailed as a creative stronghold where music will be produced, performed, and recorded. Catering to a vibrant artistic community, but also a large-scale potential audience, the space will double as social and creative hangout, connecting its clientele with grassroots musical innovation.
While traditional venues seem to have lost much of the social connection that we associate with the arts, OMW targets a programmatic difference: It represents an approach aimed at unification of the arts, an idea established in the Gesamtkunstwerk of the early 20th century. OMW aims to fill a void within the artistic community by establishing a resurrected tradition of social gathering in the music world.
Decades ago, cross-pollination of the social and artistic aspects of performance was a driving force behind the establishment of the creative centers of Vienna, Paris, and New York City, and now this practice has found a growing, actively engaged community in Brooklyn. OMW is feeding the entrepreneurial gap between the arts and the social scene that has become apparent to many of us involved in the music world.
OMW’s combination of rehearsal space, a multi-media equipped concert-hall, and a welcoming reception space (including an independently run restaurant) will bring together performers and audiences in an atmosphere that promotes social interaction, yet conforms to the highest standards of sound quality and aesthetic. The space will encompass a vibrant scene that will enhance the experiences of new audiences as they are exposed to avant-garde music collaborations, and will allow audiences to experience classical music in a new context as well. OMW has already become an artistic community project, and perhaps even more significantly, it has become an entrepreneurial centerpiece that has brought together visionaries from all corners of the New York music community, including WQXR.
[Pianists Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung perfoming at the Greene Space; photo left courtesy of Jill Steinberg]
Music performance and recording are irrevocably connected in the music market. Recognizing that concept, OMW plans to provide a high tech, state of the art recording studio, as well as a high acoustic quality music hall with live streaming-capability. Among OMW’s partners is Grammy award winning recording engineer Adam Abeshouse, and international tax lawyer Kevin Dolan, the project’s initial investor, who says he has been toying with a vision of the “art-factory” for a long time. Dolan is an amateur composer and organist himself, and, clearly taken with the energy provided by the young musicians around him, he felt that the time was finally ripe to engage in this communal, non-for-profit undertaking, that will shape a fresh environment for a growing and articulate new music scene. “Music is so important, emotionally, and there is so much talent, right here! This generation is living the music. But there is no infrastructure there, which can accommodate them, let them pursue their dreams and essence,” Dolan says empathically, after the last OMW-initiated performance at the Green Space of WQXR. He is well aware of the enormous potential he is offering through this ambitious project. For example, with WQXR able to live-stream the performances in OMW’s concert hall, the featured artists will be able to reach a much larger group of listeners, which could in turn draw in a new, larger audience to the fledgling classical music scene. This exposure will serve to augment OMW’s popularity as a performance destination for new and established artists.
The core of this project is still the wish to fulfill an immediate need: to find an attractive and affordable home for the artistic community of Brooklyn, and to keep the art at home in their borough. Of the project and the space, Dolan says; “I collected a very talented group of young people around me and asked: How would you like to design something, so you can actually make a difference? It was a process and it established that the perfect size of an intimate setting would be 35/50, making a 50/100 ft building necessary. It had to have 100 ft. ceiling, so sound would not have to be compromised on. The club-like atmosphere shall attract a patronage of 20/30 years old target audience, but the quality of performance will not scare away older folks, who come for the music. I call the most recent design the mozzarella cheese concert hall– but it does not really matter what I personally think of it. The notion was from the beginning, to never sacrifice the acoustics for any design purposes, but it should not be sterile; so progressive, young designers were hired to ‘get’ what will be crowd-pleasing and stimulating social interaction, inviting performers into the audience themselves to hang out, have a glass of wine and listen to the next performer.”
[Pictured right, Gyan Riley and Luca Tarrantino performing at the Greene Space; photo courtesy of Jill Steinberg]
It certainly helps that everyone involved in this project seems to be intimately connected to music in one way or another. Peter Zuspan of the design firm Bureau V is also a composer; he works closely with the team responsible for the design and construction of the new OMW space, and describes the design as exposed brick and concrete surrounding a faceted interior made up of a composite of perforated metal and translucent fabric. His description is rife with eloquence and undeniable enthusiasm: “I could not be more thrilled with the pristine design, a result of architectural roughness and the most refined standards of technology. The backdrop harks back to the 18th century model of a performance hall – except here it becomes just a room, we have replaced the curtains with the actual entrance to the space, so the ceremonial aspect is there as you enter, then you are enveloped by the intimacy of the performance itself,” he explains. The team works closely together to work through tough entrepreneurial guidelines and decisions, constantly remembering that their proximity to their favorite thing, the music, and their ability to share the music with one another, unifies their diverse planned projects in a very powerful place.
Prestini was an ideal choice for artistic director of the new OMW. The reinvented project will present classical and new music in multi- dimensional interdisciplinary showcases. Like other neighboring musical muses, for example Limor Tomer, who as creative curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s innovative music series is famous for integrating her music projects into the Met’s environment, utilizing the Met to its full potential, Prestini is prepared to integrate her generation’s creative vibes into OMW while simultaneously attracting new audiences. She has already arranged for residencies of some of the most cutting- edge chamber groups including The Knights, ICE, and Talea Ensemble among others.
Paola Prestini started her own company several years ago to present her own works as vocalist and composer. Her company, VisionIntoArt (VIA), is currently collecting funds through a Kickstarter campaign to launch its own recording label. As she recently shared with The Glass, VIA’s first releases will include: Oceanic Verses by Prestini herself featuring vocalist Helga Davis; Anna Clyne’s The Violin, featuring Cornelius Dufallo, and a CD in two parts, entitled North and Glaub, respectively, by Paola’s husband, cellist Jeff Zeigler of the Kronos Quartet. Prestini explains that this label is a natural progression for VIA, which according to her has always, “been about music and collaboration.” She says, “it became really clear to me that there was room and space for one more recording label that was really dedicated to the kind of artists that I like to present, and to new music and multimedia. So, we’ll generally be doing multimedia releases, and I’m excited about it! I think that there’s always room for more opportunities for composers and musicians who are kind of thinking out of the box.”
Prestini allows her choices to be guided by creative sincerity, artistic vision, and a confident raw instinct that has already brought about some of the most talented musicians’ engagements in recent memory. Her projects include traditionally classical performers, like the dynamic pianists Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung, who performed in OMW’s January preview presentation at WQXR’s Greene Space. “I am a composer, so naturally I love new music, but I love all kinds of good music. If it’s curated well, classical and everything else can work together.”
Prestini’s personal approach offers something refreshing to the music business: the kind of friendship and support a life in music should be about. She says: “With OMW, the difference from all the others is that it provides support for their artists.
OMW plans to open its doors at the end of 2013, beginning of 2014 at the latest. Its introduction into the local community of Brooklyn will bring about many changes at once, but it has great potential for mentoring new artists, curating, recording, and communicating the arts to the public. The shared vision of its collaborators could indeed make a difference within the music world, and change how we have been going about building an all-inclusive community. As Kevin Dolan says: “It should be a home for artists, it’s not only about virtuosity and experiment, it’s about touching our hearts.”
Ilona Oltuski, creator of GetClassical.org, is a writer/blogger and advocate for outreach for classical/new music and its audience.